For more than 40 years, the man whose name is synonymous in the collective American consciousness with the atrocities committed in a Vietnamese hamlet called My Lai has been silent, except perhaps with those closest to him.
William "Rusty" Calley Jr. has never spoken, at least publicly, about the events of March 16, 1968, when American troops under the command of the then-Army lieutenant massacred between 300 and 500 civilians. The horror of that day would be one of the seminal events that collapsed American support of the Vietnam War. Just as the Pentagon Papers, which would reveal the extent to which U.S. officials had lied to the American public, undermined the war’s credibility, My Lai undermined its moral rationale.
Calley has hardly been invisible since his court martial and conviction, at least not in Columbus: He worked at V.V. Vick jewelers for years — a familiar figure to many, no doubt an object of curiosity to others. But while he didn't hide from view, he did avoid the spotlight of historical and media scrutiny.
Thursday, Columbus TV commentator and retired news anchor Al Fleming managed to do what every major network, cable news outlet, newspaper, magazine and blogger has failed to do for more than four decades: get William Calley to speak publicly about his personal day of infamy.
In a talk and subsequent news conference-type Q&A session for the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus, Calley gave a glimpse into something most of us probably assumed but could never fully imagine — the tremendous weight of those events that he still bears in conscience and memory.
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